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Data literacy to the fore in 2017

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Last year we saw an explosion of data, but unfortunately, not aren’t enough people with the expertise to handle the increasing levels of data and computing. DAN SOMMER, Senior Director of Qlik, predicts that in 2017 a culture-wide change is needed.

Over the past twelve months we’ve seen an explosion of data, an increase in processing it and a move towards information activism. This means the number of employees actively able to work with – and master – the huge amounts of information available, such as data scientists, application developers, and business analysts, have become a valuable entity.

Unfortunately, however, there still aren’t enough people with the expertise to handle the ever-increasing, vast levels of data and computing. You would assume, with all the information currently being produced and held by businesses, that 2017 would see us in a new digital era of facts. But, without the right number of specialists to consume and analyse it, there’s a gap in resources.  Data is, unfortunately, growing faster than our ability to make use of it.

For many business leaders then, this means a reliance on gut instinct to make even the most important decisions. Unable to hone in on the most important insights, they’re presented with multiple – and sometimes conflicting – data points, so the most important ones seem unreliable.

The situation needs to change. Yes, that will mean upskilling more data scientists in 2017, but there will be a greater focus on empowering more people more broadly. That will go beyond information activists and towards providing more people with the tools and training to increase data literacy. Just as reading and writing skills needed to move beyond scholars 100 years ago, data literacy will become one of the most important business skills for any member of staff.

So, what will change to see culture-wide data literacy become a reality? Here are my predictions:

1.    Combinations of data – Big data will become less about size and more about combinations. With more fragmentation of data and most of it created externally in the cloud, there will be a cost impact to hoarding data without a clear purpose. That means we’ll move towards a model where businesses have to quickly combine their big data with small data so they can gain insights and context to get value from it as quickly as possible. Combining data will also shine a light on false information more easily, improving data accuracy as well as understanding.

2.    Hybrid thinking – In 2017, hybrid cloud and multi-platform will emerge as the primary model for data analytics. Because of where data is generated, ease of getting started, and its ability to scale, we’re now seeing an accelerated move to cloud. But one cloud is not enough, because the data and workloads won’t be in one platform. In addition, data gravity also means that on premise has long staying power. Hybrid and multi-environment will emerge as the dominant model, meaning workloads and publishing will happen across cloud and on-premise.

3.    Self-service for all – Freemium is the new normal, so 2017 will be the year users have easier access to their analytics. More and more data visualisation tools are available at low cost, or even for free, so some form of analytics will become accessible across the workforce. With more people beginning their analytics journey, data literacy rates will naturally increase — more people will know what they’re looking at and what it means for their organisation. That means information activism will rise too.

4.   Scale-up – Much a result of its own success, user-driven data discovery from two years ago has become today’s enterprise-wide BI. In 2017, this will evolve to replace archaic reporting-first platforms. As modern BI becomes the new reference architecture, it will open more self-service data analysis to more people. It also puts different requirements on the back end for scale, performance, governance, and security.

5.    Advancing analytics – In 2017, the focus will shift from “advanced analytics” to “advancing analytics.” Advanced analytics is critical, but the creation of the models, as well as the governance and curation of them, is dependent on highly-skilled experts. However, many more should be able to benefit from those models once they are created, meaning that they can be brought into self-service tools. In addition, analytics can be advanced by increased intelligence being embedded into software, removing complexity and chaperoning insights. But the analytical journey shouldn’t be a black box or too prescriptive. There is a lot of hype around “artificial intelligence,” but it will often serve best as an augmentation rather than replacement of human analysis because it’s equally important to keep asking the right questions as it is to provide the answers.

6.    Visualisation as a concept will move from analysis-only to the whole information supply chain – Visualisation will become a strong component in unified hubs that take a visual approach to information asset management, as well as visual self-service data preparation, underpinning the actual visual analysis. Furthermore, progress will be made in having visualisation as a means to communicate our findings. The net effect of this is increased numbers of users doing more in the data supply chain.

7.    Focus will shift to custom analytic apps and analytics in the app – Everyone won’t — and cannot be —both a producer and a consumer of apps. But they should be able to explore their own data. Data literacy will therefore benefit from analytics meeting people where they are, with applications developed to support them in their own context and situation, as well as the analytics tools we use when setting out to do some data analysis.  As such, open, extensible tools that can be easily customised and contextualised by application and web developers will make further headway.

These trends lay the foundation for increased levels of not just information activism, but also data literacy. After all, new platforms and technologies that can catch “the other half” (i.e., less skilled information workers and operational workers on the go) will help usher us into an era where the right data becomes connected with people and their ideas — that’s going to close the chasm between the levels of data we have available and our ability to garner insights from it. Which, let’s face it, is what we need to put us on the path toward a more enlightened, information-driven, and fact-based era.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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